Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"Adventureland" & The Crappy Summer Job

Mr. SevPrez and I managed to make it to the 8:10 showing of "Adventureland" last night, and our effort was rewarded. It was a cool, mellow little movie about summer dreams thwarted by summer jobs. Main character James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg of excruciatingly  embarrassing "The Squid and the Whale" fame) can only find work at Adventureland, a rundown local amusement park. But what else does he find there? Love, friendship, manhood, and good times, of course! I wouldn't quite put it on the epic level of a "Dazed And Confused", but this is definitely a flick you will find yourself craving every once in a while for the rest of your life.  And that's pretty good, in my book.

We made a pilgrimage to the theater on a weeknight because I couldn't resist the pull of a movie about a one-of-a-kind seasonal job. Most people have hilarious horror stories about their first job, but there are few that rival mine.  I spent my first summer at work manning the Candy Hut at the Deal Casino beach club in Deal, New Jersey, a very distinctive place on Earth, serving an equally unique population of beach goers. After seeing "Adventureland," I can concede that working at a depressing carnival in Pittsburgh is also pretty awful. 

It was 1995, and I was fourteen and without a license. I rode my bike the mile and a half to the beach every sunny day, only to stand inside a hot 10 by 10 foot "hut," with a gorgeous view of an ocean that was off limits to me. Work a summer at the beach and you will start praying for rain, because it means you have the day off. I have never watched more Weather Channel Doppler Radars before or since.

My duties at the Candy Hut consisted of scooping vanilla, chocolate, or mint chocolate chip ice cream, or doling out a variety of Good Humor treats and giant boxes of candy. This was also the summer that I was playing a lot of tennis, and my right forearm was never in better shape. The thing about scooping ice cream is that you really have to double over, almost crawling inside the freezer, to dig scoops out of half empty five gallon drums. In the process, the front of your shirt becomes caked in ice cream. And after about a month of this, you cannot launder the rank ice cream smell out of cotton, no matter how hard you try. (Well, bleach might have done it, but our shirts were black with a pink insignia, so I'll never know.)  

Dear Readers: always remember to please tip your ice cream scoopers well. 

I shared a shift with a girl who was a full-blown anorexic by mid-July, and by the end of the summer, she wasn't strong enough to scoop her own ice cream orders. When she left early for a softball game (she was a great pitcher, though I'm not sure how she even managed to pick up a softball) she would fill her backpack full of candy, making a big show of how much she planned to eat. I resented her for this, and a variety of other personality traits related to her disease, until her big-eyed little brother started bringing her well-rounded meals from the snack bar, silently imploring her to please eat. 

Oh man, being fourteen can be so painful in so many ways.

What else... I discovered that everyone on the beach wants their ice cream snack at the same time, every day. No one cares if it means that they will have to wait on a very long line of loud children and their humorless parents. That taught me something about human nature.

I worked at the beach for one more summer, this time at Breakwater Beach Club, in Long Branch. It was there that I earned the reputation amongst members for the making the best black and white milkshake. About midway through the summer, I decided to stop groaning when people ordered milkshakes and started embracing the challenge. Another life lesson learned: when you have no choice in a matter, surrender, and something good will come of it. 

In the movie, James is home from college, biding his time until he starts grad school at Columbia. I was much younger. One of the reasons I worked so hard in high school was because I knew I never wanted to go back to the Candy Hut, ever, ever again. It was college, all the way, and beyond. Horrendous summer jobs really can transform you, and it's nice to see that notion so sweetly interpreted on the silver screen. 

1 comment:

MA said...


I sent your blog address to Ben, Joe and my brother, Tom. I really enjoyed this one. It seems to me you got it just about right!